Experiences as Part of Effective Learning

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By Ciro Pérez, President at Change Americas

The latest buzzword: experience. Apparently human beings are eager to have new experiences and the environment sells this to us as: “Holidays, enjoy a new experience! Break out of the routine, enjoy a new experience!” Customer experience, employee experience, user experience—businesses in tourism, health, banks, technology and many others talk to us about experiences, a word that is as old as the history of humanity.

Lewis Carbone, in his book about marketing experiences, “Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again”, discusses how since the beginning of time religious ceremonies and entertainment have been designed with the aim of transmitting certain experiences. From oriental religious rituals through to the Roman circus shows in the West, human beings have sought to create moments, spaces, and circumstances that allow us to experience novel situations which stimulate our senses.

The key to experience is that in such a dizzy world as today’s, it has gained strength as a major learning factor. Let’s look at some of the main concepts of learning before finding out how to use experience to our benefit to manage learning:

  1. Our brain is designed to learn, but what is hardest to do is to unlearn and relearn. Ever since birth, our interaction with reality generates or strengthens neuronal connections permanently. However, establishing a neural connection does not imply that we learn well. For example: 2 + 2 is 4 but someone might learn that 2 + 2 is 5. That is why the issue is whether we learn well or not.
  2. A significant number of valuable lessons on how to survive, guide, relate, belong to groups, position and define ourselves in life come from non-programmed learning and are not taught intentionally. These lessons arise from the context and environment of each person’s experience. Hence, we can conclude that knowledge does not mean learning.
  3. Digital technologies provide us information and open the door to unprecedented learning opportunities. The volume of information currently available to us is vast, but do we have the capacity to process it to generate learning? Have we possibly entered the learning crisis?

The World Bank in their 2018 report warn about a learning crisis, where millions of schoolchildren reach adulthood without the basic skills to cope with life. This reality is not alien to companies and today their challenge is to close gaps to achieve higher performance. Experience will then be crucial for individuals to interact in environments where they can enhance or develop their skills and improve the company’s performance.


Using experiences in learning

Over the years I have been involved with developing people in multiple sectors and companies, I have learned that when someone has an experience where he connects emotionally and has meaningful moments, he generates breakpoints that allow him to generate awareness and redirect his behaviour. This can be more powerful for a company’s success than if this individual were to only have discovered a new concept.

I am not trying to negate the contribution that traditional training processes have made to people’s learning, but today the possibilities of self-learning are greater and facilitate areas of training management. Thus, creating environments in which someone can generate his own insights, emotions and knowledge becomes decisive, unseating the focus on formal workshops and training.

To generate a link between experiences in your learning strategy, keep these 3 recommendations in mind:

  1. Go back to the basics of learning: perception and processing. Learning is the result of how people perceive and then process what they have perceived. Some people process learning by putting it into practice and others do it by reflective observation, so it is necessary to focus on activities that generate experiences blending these two possibilities for the individual.
  2. Give priority to emotion over knowledge. Emotions are responsible for transmitting the necessary information to generate meanings that help with learning a kind of behaviour and even a paradigm shift. Therefore, complement your training plan with spaces that generate emotions in people, connecting them through these spaces.
  3. Use analogies, to bring out the similarity between two different things: Analogies allow the brain to compare various elements and use the results to build new ideas. Analogies are expressed in language through similes or metaphors and are an excellent resource for making complex concepts simple.

Finally, bear in mind that people need to discover new knowledge, but if what is new is not connected with what the individual already knows, then it is hard for the brain to process this.

Think that life itself is a learning path and each experience lived facilitates this process; experiences nowadays are to your benefit.

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